Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch

Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch


Last summer I bought a swim watch. In preparing for a 10-mile river swim, I started adding occasional aerobic steady-state swims to my usual interval-heavy diet. I needed something to keep track of how far I swam while I zoned out and listened to music on my SwimP3.

Back then there were two swim watches on the market – Swimovate’s Poolmate, and the Oregon Scientific swim watch. I don’t remember why I chose the Oregon Scientific – they were both priced at $99.99 – but that’s what I did.

I ended up not using the watch much, for a few reasons:

  • The holes in the strap are too far apart. My wrist is right between two sizes, so it’s either too tight or too loose, and thus uncomfortable to wear.
  • The watch is a bit bulky and I didn’t like the feeling of increasing my drag in the water (especially just on one arm).
  • The open water season ended in October, so I stopped doing long steady-state swims.

But the main reason I stopped using the watch was: I had a vague sense that it was under-counting my laps and over-counting my strokes. For example, say I did a 30-minute moderate steady-state swim. I’d glance up at the pace clock mid-swim and see that I was holding around 1:12′s. But then when I finished the swim the total yardage counted would indicate a pace of 1:16′s. Or, when I knew I was hitting 14 strokes/lap the watch would say I averaged 16 strokes/lap.

The reason I had only a “vague sense” about this is that the watch only shows the total time and total stroke count for a particular swim. You can’t see your split times or how many strokes you took on a particular lap. If it did, I would have been able to go back, review my splits, and see whether (a) I really was going 1:16′s, or (b) the watch missed a lap or two. Instead, I was left with the frustrating feeling that “I think I swam 2500, but the watch says I only did 2350.”

(The Swimsense, you may be interested to know, provides split times and stroke counts for each length of a swim.)

In any case, I recently dusted off the watch and brought it to the pool for a proper test, to see if my suspicions held any water.

The test consisted of a set of 6×500 at a moderate pace, with about a minute rest between each. I did #1 without equipment, #2 with a buoy, #3 with a buoy and paddles, and repeated that pattern for 4-6. I counted my strokes on each length, and (obviously) made sure I did 20 lengths each time.

Note: I define “strokes” as the number of times a hand (left or right) enters the water out front.

Here are the results:

# activity laps (watch) strokes (watch) laps (actual) strokes (actual) time
1 swim 10 280 10 280 6:05
2 buoy 9 302 10 281 5:59
3 buoy+paddles 9 314 10 260 5:39
4 swim 10 290 10 281 6:01
5 buoy 10 324 10 280 5:58
6 buoy+paddles 9 310 10 260 5:41

On the first 500 I took exactly 14 strokes per length and – surprise! – the Oregon Scientific counted both laps and strokes perfectly. The next 5×500? Not so much.

On three of the swims the watch under-counted my laps (9 instead of 10) – confirming my “vague sense” from last summer. On each of the final five swims, the watch over-counted my strokes, sometimes significantly. On #6 the watch over-counted by 50 strokes (while counting only 9 laps!). D’oh!

Incredulous that the watch could fail so badly, I consulted Uncle Google to see about others’ experiences. There were few reports about the Oregon Scientific watch (only two on SwimOutlet), but in reading reviews of the Poolmate, some suggested that the watch gets confused if there’s not enough of a pause between your turn and your first stroke off the wall (i.e., if you don’t “glide” long enough).

It’s possible this may have occurred when I swam with a buoy, as the buoy tends to make you pop up right away. On the other hand, the watch still over-counted on swim #4 (no equipment) by 10 strokes.

So, I conducted a second test of 2×500, both without equipment, focusing on gliding off each wall and hitting exactly 14 strokes per length.

Here are the results:

# activity laps (watch) strokes (watch) laps (actual) strokes (actual) time
1 swim 10 300 10 280 6:03
2 swim 10 318 10 280 6:00

This time, the watch got the lap count right but – again – over-counted my strokes. Of greater concern, the watch didn’t over-count strokes in a consistent way. Remember, I took exactly 14 strokes per length (280 total) on each of these swims. If the watch had counted 300 strokes both times, then I could establish that the watch over-counts by 1 stroke per length – and use that adjustment for future swims.

I’m not sure there’s much else to say at this point. If the watch cannot reliably perform its most basic functions (counting laps and strokes), what’s the use?

But there were some additional issues that, even if the watch counted reliably, would render this product “not quite ready for prime time”:

  • The watch is designed to count laps & strokes for fly, back, breast, & free, but you have to manually set the watch to fly-, back-, breast-, or free-mode. In other words, if you want the watch to count on a continuous mixed-stroke swim, you’re S.O.L. (The Swimsense automatically recognizes different strokes.)
  • The watch must be “calibrated” whenever you change styles (e.g., fly to back), pool length (long course to short course), or users. Calibration involves swimming one lap in the specified style and pool length. (The Swimsense requries no calibraton.)

To be fair, there’s one nice feature of the Oregon Scientific watch, compared to the Poolmate and Swimsense: You can replace the battery!

Full Disclosure: I purchased the watch with my own funds.

9 Responses to “Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch”

  1. Bo Martin

    2011-02-23T09:34:34+00:00

    Nice set of 500′s!!!

    Here’s my experiences with a Poolmate

    http://forums.usms.org/blog.php?b=10406

    http://forums.usms.org/blog.php?b=10456

    Reply
  2. IronMike

    2011-02-23T12:15:55+00:00

    The Oregon at least looks better than my POS Swimovate watch. My swimovate display crapped out after only 90 days, so now I cannot read the top row except a few lines. I have to guess if I just swam 6800 yards or 7200 yards. Have no idea which.
    Looking forward to your review of the swimsense!

    Reply
    • Evan

      2011-02-23T13:01:45+00:00

      Wow, 90 days? You might consider contacting Swimovate, if it’s not under warranty.

      For me, anything less than 100% accuracy on laps is unacceptable. I know approximately how fast I swim, especially if I glance at a pace clock occasionally. So if I swim for 30 minutes I know approximately how far I swam, within about a hundred yards. The whole point of using the watch is to know exactly how far I swam.

      Stroke count is a different matter. I ragged on the Oregon for overcounting my strokes, but even the Swimsense miscounts strokes sometimes. Probably it’s harder to do from a technological standpoint.

      Reply
    • Bo Martin

      2011-02-23T15:22:12+00:00

      I just looked on their website and they offer a 12 month warranty.
      They offered to upgrade mine free to the new version. I just
      never mailed it.

      Reply
  3. IronMike

    2011-02-23T17:27:23+00:00

    I’ll have to contact them. I was just so pissed I put it away and only recently pulled it out again. I hope there is still time left.

    Reply
  4. Bo Martin

    2011-02-26T16:35:50+00:00

    Another Poolmate Test.

    I swam a broken 1650 today, I took :30 Rest between everything.
    275,250,225,200,175,150,125,100,75,50,25

    I actually swam a 1750 because I did 13 laps the 275 (started daydreaming)
    and 9 laps on the 175, once again daydreaming. The times I had reflected
    the extra laps.
    The Lap count was perfect, the stroke count said I averaged 9 strokes, when
    I know I averaged 12-13. I’m not as worried about strokes as I am laps.

    Reply
    • Evan

      2011-02-26T17:47:13+00:00

      Thanks for the info, Bo. With the Poolmate, do you have to press buttons every time you a finish a swim, and every time you start a new one? That’s why I never use watches during sets…only long straight swims.

      Reply
  5. IronMike

    2011-02-27T00:17:52+00:00

    You have to press pause btwn each set and start when you begin again.

    Reply
  6. Bo Martin

    2011-03-02T14:25:20+00:00

    When you stop it, the pause keeps count as to how much rest you have taken.
    Helped keep me to my 30 seconds rest.

    You can also set it to chrono mode and it just keeps time
    If you stop it after every swim you can review the data later,
    but thats not the easiest thing to do. It can be frustrating
    trying to review a set.

    Reply

Leave a Reply